These are the days of mud puddles, sweatshirts and green, green grass popping between the snowflakes. Spring is in the air (along with the return of our friendly red-winged black birds!) As gardeners, we are ready to jump in to our spring garden chores, dig in the dirt, rake and mow the lawn, and let the warm weather begin!
Following are some tips for early spring lawn care: what you can do, and, most importantly, what you should wait to do. Remember, with all things gardening, patience is a virtue! Don’t rush onto your lawn. Wet soil and newly emerging grass plants do not mix well with foot traffic and lawn rakes! Resist the temptation to clean up your lawn too soon. Trodding on wet lawns can compact the soil and damage plants just breaking dormancy. Raking when the ground is muddy can uproot plants and create bare spots, allowing weeds to take root and thrive. Rake when the soil dries out and “mud season” has passed.
Fortunately, we have not seen snow mold in abundance this year. Snow mold is a fungus that thrives in cold, moist (but not frozen) conditions. It can cause circular patches of tan, dead looking grass, and leave webs of grayish “mold” over the surface of infected areas. This infection is limited to the blades of grass, and does not affect the growth center of the plant. As the weather warms and the lawn dries out, the infection dissipates.
Twisting, tunnels and ridges in your lawn are caused by the meadow vole. This small, mouse-like mammal is very common in yards and fields, and spends much of its time eating grass roots and creating the tunnels in your lawn. Vole damage is most significant around trees and shrubs, where they can girdle the bark beneath the snow line during the long winter months. While lawn damage is noticeable, it is not permanent. Rake up the dead grass and reseed the area. The surrounding grass will grow into the space and cover up the trails.
Dead grass as a result of salt injury also becomes apparent in the spring. A few spring rains will generally wash away the salt residue, and the area can usually be repaired by seeding or sodding without further damage. There are some grass seed mixtures available with more salt tolerance. Look for salt tolerance on the label the next time you purchase seed.
For more information on spring lawn chores and turfgrass problems, visit the University of Minnesota Extension website at www.extension.umn.edu.